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Home » Closed Palm Beach School of Nursing linked to federal arrests in diploma scheme
MIAMI — 25 people have been charged in a wire-fraud program that created an illegal license and employment curtailment for prospective nurses at three now-closed schools, including the Palm Beach School of Nursing, federal prosecutors said Wednesday afternoon.
The defendants sold fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and certificates obtained from accredited nursing schools in Florida to people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/professional nurses, according to three recently unsealed indictments by a South Florida state grand jury were returned on January 12 and information from federal prosecutors.
The other schools named are the Sacred Heart Institute in Fort Lauderdale at Sienna College of Health in Lauderhill in the investigation, dubbed Operation Nightingale after legendary nurse Florence Nightingale.
The Palm Beach County School, operated at 2695 N. Military Trail in West Palm Beach, offered an Associate in Science degree. The school was licensed by the Florida Board of Nursing but was terminated in 2017 due to low pass rates on the state certification exam. When it was dissolved in 2020, the address was 1110 Sixth Ave. S. Lake Worth Beach.
Johanah Napoleon, the school’s president, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health fraud and referral fraud and referral fraud in 2022. She was not named in the indictment.
“Not only is this a public safety issue, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the rigorous clinical and coursework required to obtain their professional license and employment,” said Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in Miami. adding that “a scam scheme like this undermines public confidence in our healthcare system.”
Qualified purchasers were allowed to sit the National Nursing Board exam and, upon passing, were granted licenses and jobs in various states as RNs and LPN/VNs. The exams were taken in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas.
Since 2016, the three nursing schools have issued more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas at $15,000 each, earning them more than $114 million.
Each accused faces up to 20 years in prison. They were charged with conspiracy and wire fraud, prosecutors said.
“Healthcare fraud is nothing new in South Florida, as many scammers see it as an easy, albeit illegal, way to make money,” said Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami Acting Special Agent. “What is troubling about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people across the country with fraudulent care credentials who may be in critical healthcare functions treating patients. Without the diligence and hard work of investigators in this case, the extent of this fraud might not have been uncovered.”
Investigators said about a third of the people actually practice medicine.
“The most important thing for us was to make sure that as far as we’re talking about healthcare, we’re stopping the bleeding,” Lapointe said. “What do we learn when someone gets hurt? Stop the bleeding. The bleeding here is to prevent these schools from being able to release more fake diplomas in public.”
There are two categories of accused. Recruiters would bring “students” from out of state to receive the “abbreviation” documents from the South Florida school. The other group included nursing school owners, operators and employees to forge diplomas and certificates.
In 2021, an FBI undercover agent met with Fort Lauderdale businessman Geralda Adrien
Adrien in her Fort Lauderdale office. She said a normal nursing school program lasts 22 months and could be equivalent to four years at a major university.
According to an FBI affidavit, Adrien offered the undercover collaborator a degree from the Palm Beach School of Nursing and training for a license exam in New York for $16,000.
Fourteen of the defendants are affiliated with the Palm Beach County school.
Prosecutors alleged recruiters colluded with Palm Beach School of Nursing owner Napoleon and school employees Gail Russ, Cheryl Stanley, Krystal Lopez and Ricky Riley to create and distribute false and fraudulent diplomas and certificates. The other 10 defendants were listed as recruiters, including seven from New Jersey or New York.
No students were named in the indictments.